Local, state, and federal government websites serve the American public online, providing the public with information on everything from library books to voter registration. If you manage a website for a government entity or a federally funded project, it is vital that your website be accessible under Section 508.
Our Section 508 compliance checklist can help you to ensure that your organization’s website is meeting the accessibility requirements of Section 508.
What Is Section 508?
Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The amendment details web accessibility requirements for federal agencies and federally funded projects. It states that federal agencies and federally funded projects must provide accessible information technology.
Websites fall under this distinction, which means that any website that is used by a federal agency to disseminate information to the public must be accessible to people with disabilities.
Additionally, if someone with a disability, including a federal employee with a disability, cannot access a federal agency’s website, Section 508 requires that the agency provide them with another means of access.
Section 508 directly states:
When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology —
(i) individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and
(ii) individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.
If your agency’s website does not follow the requirements laid out in Section 508, you may be susceptible to lawsuits and fines.
Who Is Required to Follow Section 508?
Federal government agencies and organizations that receive federal funding are required to maintain information and communication technology that is accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities subject to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Section 508 Compliance Checklist
There are a number of ways that you can fulfill all the necessary steps of our Section 508 compliance checklist.
1. Become Familiar with Section 508
The first step in our Section 508 compliance checklist is to read Section 508 in full. This will provide you with background information on Section 508, as well as some guidelines for whether or not your website needs to be 508 compliant.
You will also want to read through the 2017 updates to Section 508. This update was intended to “refresh” some of the guidelines and standards in accordance with the evolution of technology. The revised standards continued to support accessibility, and also considered the cost of providing accessible technology to federal agencies.
Lastly, you will need to read the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Because the 2017 updates to Section 508 mandated conformance to WCAG 2.0, it is vital that you understand these guidelines, which are used to measure and confirm 508 website compliance.
2. Test your website for Section 508-specific compliance
Section 508 compliance testing can be performed manually, automatically, or with a hybrid of the two.
Automated Accessibility Scans
Automated compliance testing is performed with testing tools that scan and test web content for accessibility errors and WCAG compliance. If you have a WordPress website, Accessibility Checker is a great option for bulk scanning your website for issues. If your website was not made in WordPress, then Monsido is a good option for automated scanning.
Automated tools can be helpful for websites with large amounts of content, like a news archive or multi-location federal agency, but they have their limitations. Automated tools cannot apply human subjectivity, and they cannot detect every specific issue.
Manual Accessibility Testing
Manual compliance testing may be performed by a trained accessibility expert, or by web users who have disabilities. A trained accessibility professional will typically follow the ICT Testing Baseline, which helps increase the consistency of accessibility testing results. You can find an accessibility professional to perform manual testing from the Trusted Tester Program. Equalize Digital is also experienced in Section 508 compliance and can perform audits for your website.
Real-world users may be employed through accessibility firms, in a program like Equalize Digital’s user testing service. They can perform testing with their own assistive technology and provide immediate feedback.
Hybrid compliance testing involves both an automated accessibility testing tool and a manual accessibility tester. Hybrid compliance testing is best used for websites that have a high volume of electronic content.
3. Remediate Section 508 compliance errors
Once you have performed Section 508 compliance testing and documented existing errors, you can begin to remediate those errors. Some problems may be simple and easily resolved in house. In these instances, you may want to use an automated accessibility tool, like Accessibility Checker or the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, both of which have a built-in help center with steps to help you fix the problem.
Other accessibility issues may be more complex and require an outside source to fix. You can hire an accessibility firm to help you test for compliance errors and resolve them. Equalize Digital provides accessibility audit services to help you understand existing issues, and accessibility remediation services to resolve them quickly and efficiently.
If you have a multitude of errors, you may even want to consider building a new website. A new website can resolve Section 508 compliance errors, help you achieve new goals, and modernize your design. Equalize Digital offers accessible website and web application development services, which will ensure that your new website has been created with accessibility in mind.
4. Participate in accessibility training
Once you have become familiar with Section 508 and performed the necessary compliance testing and remediation, it is important to participate in accessibility training. Accessibility training sessions will keep accessibility at the forefront of your agency and ensure that you are staying up to date with accessibility requirement changes.
It is best to have accessibility training sessions at least once a year, but you may also want to book a training session if there are updates to accessibility guidelines or big changes within your agency’s mission, offerings, processes, or procedures. Equalize Digital offers virtual accessibility training services, which allows us to set up sessions on your schedule. It’s important to remember that accessibility is not a “one time fix” – as you add content to your website over time, you’ll need to ensure that it stays accessible.
Accessibility Goes Beyond Compliance
Following these steps in our Section 508 compliance checklist will provide your agency with a blueprint for web accessibility.
Not only is website accessibility mandated by law, but it also will positively contribute to your ability to serve the public and fulfill your mission. Website accessibility helps people with a myriad of permanent and temporary disabilities, and also adds features that help other special populations access your website including disabled veterans, people in rural areas, low-income individuals with only access to mobile internet connections, and the elderly. It can even increase your public reach and visibility, help improve programs and services, and reduce administrative burdens on your employees.
If you are unsure where to start with your Section 508 compliance, Equalize Digital can help. Contact us today with a new project inquiry or you’re welcome to submit an RFP to our sales team.